Filing books to irritate believers?

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Torlief Knaphus’ sculpture of the angel Moroni stands atop the Hill Cumorah
(LDS Media Library)

I’ve had a very, very long day, and it’s late, and I’m tired. (By the way, I still haven’t fully overcome jet lag.) So I think I’ll repost something from about five years ago that you might have missed:

There was considerable buzz in 2014 about the results of a Facebook poll asking people which books had “stayed with you”.

A Writer for Salt Lake City Desert News highlighted the fact that the Bible (which ranked sixth) and the Book of Mormon (which ranked thirty-fifth) were among the “top fifty” of the top hundred books cited by the survey. I admit that I myself was pleasantly surprised.

Predictably, however, some critics of Mormonism, eager for any evidence, real or imagined, of its marginality and insignificance—a position perhaps rather ironic to take, given the time and attention remarkable books they themselves dedicate to the Church, day after day – rushed to find that thirty-four classified books upper than the Book of Mormon on this list.

But maybe we should take a look at the list a bit.

It’s a pretty good collection of books that are worth reading. Quite interesting, really. We could do worse than just read the hundred.

Ahead of the Bible in the top twenty are JK Rowling’s Harry Potter books, Harper Lee’s books Kill a mockingbirdJRR Tolkien the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit (listed separately) and Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. With the exception of Ms. Rowling’s books – which I haven’t read (I may be the only person in North America who hasn’t even seen the movies based on them) – I can personally say that I really, really love them. I am, in fact, an unusual enthusiast fan of them, and have summer, for years. I can understand why so many interviewees named them as having influenced their lives and the way they think.

But it seems very strange to me that anyone would seriously want to conclude from these rankings that Harry Potter is more important that Genesis (or even that Pride and Prejudice), where Kill a mockingbird is a more significant book than is, say, the Gospel of Luke or John.

Critics scoffed at the fact that, in the list, books such as Lois Lowry The donorand Khaled Hosseini The kite runnerand Stephen King The stalland even that of Orson Scott Card ender’s game surpassed the Book of Mormon. (I can imagine Scott Card’s reaction to the news.)

Some of these books were just popular right now. Fashionable. Even recently on screen. (A film based on The donor was being shown nationally around this time.) Will they, will they, will they last for decades, like Hemingway The old Man and the Sea (#71)? For a century, like Tolstoy Anna Karenina (#83)? For millennia, like Homer’s Odyssey (#89)?

Who knows? Who can predict?

Yet they beat Hemingway, Tolstoy and Homer. As, it must be emphasized, did the Book of Mormon.

Those who scoff at what they have chosen to consider the relatively low ranking of the Book of Mormon should have noted that it beat out not only Hemingway, Tolstoy, and Homer, but significant volumes of Nobel laureates such as John Steinbeck. and Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Herman Hesse and Elie Wiesel, classics by Alexandre Dumas and Victor Hugo and Charles Dickens and Alice Walker and Sun Tzu and Oscar Wilde and Fiodor Dostoyevsky and Mark Twain, and bestsellers from authors such as Dan Brown and Anne Rice.

If the classification of the Book of Mormon has shown it to be marginal and ridiculous, unworthy of serious attention, what of those books?

And what about the many great classics that aren’t on the list at all, like Milton’s lost paradiseby Dante HellChaucer’s Canterbury Talesby Darwin The origin of speciesAugustine confessionby Goethe Faustand Shakespeare King Learor, for that matter, one of the works of Plato, Aristotle, Descartes or Kant?

Did their failure to make the cut in this particular investigation prove them insignificant and foolish?

And many of these particular critics, in my experience with them, are secular – either atheists or agnostics. One might therefore wonder where on this list were the works of Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett and Victor Stenger. Or those of Bertrand Russell?

If the Book of Mormon was to be mocked because it ranked only thirty-fifth, shouldn’t these authors be dismissed because they failed to even make it to the top hundred?

The point is that this list, while interesting, itself had no great cosmic significance. It didn’t prove the Book of Mormon to be true, but it also didn’t prove the Book of Mormon to be ridiculous, stupid, and marginal. On the contrary, the list was good company. What other books first published in America in 1830 are still read today? What other book first published in America around 1830 made the ranking? There are relatively few books on the list, in fact, that predate 1900, and even fewer that were first published in the United States.

But if there’s a meaning to the list, it might be this: The Book of Mormon is still widely read after nearly two centuries — most books don’t last that long — which is remarkable. in itself. And it continues to be found significant by enough contemporary people that it ranks high enough among the relatively few books that they say have “sticked with them.” It’s a real empirical testimony, largely based, on the real power in a book.

And one wonders, by the way, where the New Testament would have ranked among contemporary books if such a survey had been conducted around the year 200.

***

Here is however a real reason to complain and be indignant. As should be obvious, this comes directly from the Christopher Hitchens Memorial File “How Religion Poisons Everything”©:

“Church donates state-of-the-art medical oxygen plant to Paraguay: facility is the most modern in the country’s public health system”

Shouldn’t there be a law against such crimes?

Posted from Matten bei Interlaken, Switzerland



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